I stepped out of class. Rushed to a quiet spot out of sight from anyone. I pushed my back against the cold cement wall and inhaled. The exhale released a grunting cry. The tears fell from my cheeks and dripped on the paper I held in my hand. The red ink smeared the “F” grade I had received on my first written academic paper in my undergraduate career.
A note followed the “F” grade stating that the reason I had failed was because I had plagiarized. A warning followed, if I were to do it again, I would be reported to the academic senate for disciplinary action. I flipped through the paper and was failed for not citing a sentence defining the American dream. Up until that point I thought the American dream was common knowledge and did not have to be cited. I was wrong. What followed next was even more damaging.
The course would give me two required general education credits. One for writing and the other for a diversity requirement. Due to my grade on the first paper I was at risk of failing the course. Even though I feared having a meeting with the professor, it made the most sense if I wanted to resolve the issue. I scheduled a meeting, but in the meantime, I asked my peers what grades they received on their papers.
It had come to my attention that three of the five people in the course had also received failing grades. We were all women of color. One White female student had received a “B” and was told she was “flirting with plagiarism.” The professor was a White female. While I could interpret this as racially charged incident, I did not bring this argument into the meeting with the professor. Instead I let her lecture me about the kind of student she thought I was due to my “deficient upbringing” and the “lack of educational resources” I was provided.
I was spiritually murdered that day.
In 1987, legal scholar, Patricia Williams first conceptualized spirit-murdering as a product of racism which not only inflicts pain, but it is a form of racial violence that steals and kills the humanity and spirits of people of color. Education scholar Bettina Love, applies spirit-murdering to the lived realities of Black and Brown students in the educational system in the U.S. She defines spirit murdering as the “denial of inclusion, protection, safety, nurturance, and acceptance because of fixed, yet fluid and moldable structures of racism.” Love further states: “What I am talking about is a slow death, a death of the spirit, a death this is built on racism intended to reduce, humiliate and destroy people of color.”
More recently, my spirit was murdered once again.
I had written a blog over a year ago that went viral. I was proud of the piece because it exposed my most intimate and vulnerable thoughts as a young, woman of color, and junior scholar. I discussed how I cope with microaggressions through microaffirmations since often the assumption is, I do not look like a professor in academia. While I am aware that there are no “new” ideas in academia, but rather “reinventions,” credit needs to be given where credit is due. Credit was not given to the piece I wrote. A strike of death to my spirit by another academic.
Let me be clear. There is a long history of the ideas by women of color scholars being co-opted and reproduced by others. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, citing is a political act. Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Maria Lugones, Patricia Williams, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Mariana Ortega and MANY more have written on this topic.
Mariana Ortega, philosopher and academic, in her article “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color” poses the following question: “Why is it that there is still so much anger on the part of women of color and so much guilt and so much ignorance on the part of white feminists who are supposed to have knowledge of them and who are supposed to have loving perception toward them?”
I have been reflecting on this question and spirit murdering for the past month. When this recent incident happened, I was taken back to my undergraduate experience. I had to process the parallels of both incidents. The aftershocks of the first incident remain with me today. At 18 years old I stayed silent and today I break the silence.
Both incidents deeply impacted my writing processes. Both left me paralyzed with writers’ block. Both challenged my intellectual worth. I have learned that the relationship between power and privilege is daunting. I am angry, but ultimately hurt. This is a generational hurt that many women of color scholars share. However, I found refuge in the scholarship and words of women of colors scholars that have become before me.
Today, I have a platform to act. We can no longer take for granted the scholarship of women of color rather we need to pay homage to a long line of critical inquiry created on our backs. We have written and verbalized our experiences in academia to the point of suffocating. However, I am left with the words of Mariana Ortega, “How women of color show the danger of rigid boundaries is a difficult question at a time when loving perception and knowledge about them is claimed, at a time when boundaries are supposed to be more fluid.”
The onus should no longer be on women of color scholars to prove. We can no longer be spiritually murdered.
Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is an assistant professor of Higher Education at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. You can follow her on Twitter @DrNicholeGarcia